|United Methodists call for justice in Philippines|
Photographs of clergy victims of reported extra-judicial killings in
the Philippines are paraded at the start of a 2007commemoration service
at Pinole (Calif.) United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
July 30, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
As President Obama prepared to meet with Philippines President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a team of United Methodists stood in
solidarity with a U.S. citizen who has accused her government of
kidnapping and torture last May.
A meeting between Obama and Arroyo was scheduled July 30, the same
day Melissa Roxas, a Filipino American, was set to testify at a hearing
in the Philippines on human rights violations.
Aquilino Pong Javier
A delegation from the United Methodist California-Nevada Annual
(regional) Conference escorted Roxas back to the Philippines on July 20
and will be with her for the hearing. Members of the delegation will
escort her back to the U.S. July 31, in an effort to ensure her safety.
In advance of the White House meeting, it was reported the two
presidents will discuss cooperation on a variety of issues including
counterterrorism, climate change and the alliance between the U.S. and
the Philippines. Arroyo will be the first Southeast Asian leader to
visit the Obama administration. The visit comes at a time when the
Philippines and Indonesia have suffered deadly bombings and she has
said peace and security top her agenda.
Many faith groups, however, are urging Obama to address human rights violations with Arroyo.
United Methodist support
Roxas said she was illegally abducted and tortured while on a
medical relief mission. In a sworn affidavit submitted to the
Philippines Supreme Court, Roxas described being abducted at gunpoint
by several heavily armed men, taken to what she believed is a military
camp, held against her will, questioned without the presence of an
attorney, beaten repeatedly, and asphyxiated using plastic bags, before
being released. She has petitioned the Philippine courts for an
investigation of her case and for protection for her and her family,
some whom are still living in the Philippines.
Bishop Warner H. Brown, San Francisco Area, who was on part of the
trip with the California-Nevada delegation, said Roxas was grateful for
the support she received from the United Methodist team. "She was very
fearful she might be harmed if not killed if she returned on her own,"
The United Methodist Church has been actively involved in seeking
justice and calling for an end to killings, abductions and torture of
hundreds of people since Arroyo took office in 2001. Many of the
victims have been human rights workers, clergy and journalists. In
2006, a United Methodist pastor was dragged from his home, beaten and
shot. His family has accused the Philippine military of the killing.
"It is our hope he (Obama) will forcefully call for an end to
extrajudicial killings and abductions as a condition of continuing
financial aid to the Philippines," said Mark Harrison, an executive
with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. Harrison will be
participating in a prayer vigil with other faith groups and human
rights advocates outside the White House before the meeting.
"Concerned Filipino Americans, the National Association of Filipino
American United Methodists in particular, are afraid that President
Obama will be used to give political cover for the Philippine
president’s troubles back home," said Aquilino Pong Javier, director of
communication for the association.
"We demand that President Obama insists that President Arroyo
publicly go on record as commander in chief of the Philippine military
to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases of extrajudicial
killings and abductions perpetrated by the military and end the filing
of false charges against those in society that advocate for the poor
and the marginalized," Javier said. "This will be an 'Obama change' in
the right direction."
An organized advocacy campaign in 2008 resulted in the U.S. Congress
allocating $30 million for military funding in the Philippines on the
condition the government prosecute human rights violations and put an
end to military harassment.
"The U.S. Department of State granted the funds, the Arroyo administration has yet to meet any of the conditions," Javier said.
The California-Nevada conference has sent three teams to the
Philippines since 2007 to listen and record stories of victims and
offer pastoral support. The conference has many pastors and lay persons
who are from the Philippines, Brown said.
This was Brown's first trip to the Philippines since being appointed
to the California-Nevada conference. He called the trip "illuminating"
as the church in the U.S. looks for ways to support the church in the
"Seventy percent of the population in the Philippines are poor and
most are desperately poor," he said. "Wealth is concentrated in a few
hands and there is major concern that the government is serving the
interest of the wealthy few and transnational corporations."
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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